Leaders discuss diversity at West Point

The U.S. Military Academy held its graduation and commissioning ceremony for the Class of 2020 in West Point, N.Y., on June 13. Over the summer, 1,200 cadet candidates arrived at the academy as part of its most diverse freshmen class in the school’s 218-year history. Of them, nearly 500 identified as minorities, including 214 African Americans and 141 Hispanic Americans. 

WASHINGTON – The roadmap to a modernized Army relies on building a more diverse force, said the head of Army Training and Doctrine Command recently.

A panel of leaders, including Gen. Paul E. Funk, highlighted the Army’s diversity goals and how the service can best reflect the nation it defends during a discussion Oct. 13 at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in the nation’s capital.

The Army is “a culture built on trust that harnesses experiences, cultures, characteristics, and backgrounds (all) Soldiers and civilians bring into our great formation,” Funk said. “Whether you wear a uniform or a suit, you’re part of an Army profession. It’s our responsibility to uphold that culture and the sacred trust of the American people.”

To do that, various initiatives were rolled out over the past year to move the Army’s culture toward diversity. One recent example is Project Inclusion, a sweeping, five-part review of governance structures, marketing, guidance, mentorship and leadership practices to increase deliberate thinking and the value diversity brings.

“To build cohesive teams within the Army, we begin by looking at our culture and implement actions based on those ideas,” said E. Casey Wardynski, assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

“They’re very American things like a level playing field, human dignity, allowing talents to take you as far as you can go and rise as far as you can,” he further noted. By doing this, a Soldier’s talents in the Army becomes inculcated with “building teams upon which future victory rests.”

When it comes to inclusion, Wardynski continued, the Army’s approach avoids dividing groups individually. “(We’re) bringing people together and showing them what they can accomplish.”

Any organization as large as the Army also needs to be “careful of the folks they bring in,” he said. “We want folks who come into the Army to be part of our culture; to support the key notions that underlie our country” and to live up to the oath of the Constitution.

If, for whatever reason, those individuals don’t align with the desired inclusive values, “we would look to remove them from our organization because they simply couldn’t fit” in with the Army’s culture, Wardynski pointed out.

The push for an inclusive force must go beyond the enlisted ranks. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., made note of his organization’s success in hitting diversity milestones. This year, it brought in its most diverse freshmen class in the school’s 218-year history.

Over the summer, 1,200 cadet candidates arrived. Nearly 500 identified as minorities including 214 African Americans and 141 Hispanic Americans, who will be “developed into the Army to fight and win on a multi-domain battlefield,” Williams said.

The academy’s mission is to cultivate and welcome young men and women from all walks of life, and in 47 months turn them into leaders of character ready to join the Army’s fighting force, he said.

Until a few years ago, women were unable to serve in combat arms positions, such as infantry and field artillery, Wardynski said. Now, the academy is “graduating good-sized cohorts of ladies entering those branches and going off to Ranger school.”

The academy is not only accepting women into traditional combat arms branches, Wardynski added, but “acculturating them into the Army with the notion they can take their talents anywhere and rise to their maximum potential.”

Having a diverse force is only the beginning. The Army also has numerous reforms in place that aim to eliminate unconscious bias in career development. In August, for instance, all DA photos were suspended from promotion boards, and race, ethnicity and gender data have been redacted from officer and enlisted records briefs.

Moving forward, the Army plans to “continue the work that we began in equity and inclusion,” said Anselm Beach, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for equity and inclusion. “We are looking at the work in terms of readiness because we’re optimizing customized talents.”

Although the Army’s senior leaders have forged ahead with their plans, the driving force of change will rely on leadership at all levels at every installation, Williams observed. Those in charge need to listen to troops and genuinely acknowledge their concerns. Mentorship and unhindered professional development also are key.